Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sholay

Sholay; action / adventure, India, 1975; D: Ramesh Sippy, S: Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Amjad Khan, Hema Malini, Jaya Badhuri 


Gabbar is a notorious criminal whose gang descends from the hills to repeatedly attack a small village in the valley and force them to give them food. Thakur, a retired police officer, summons two small-time crooks, friends Veera and Jai, who are in their 20s, to hire them to capture Gabbar and end his reign of fear. Veera and Jai at first plan to rob the safe and flee, but change their mind when they see how villagers suffer from Gabbar's thugs. Moreover, they discover that Thakur once arrested Gabbar, but the criminal escaped from prison, killed Thakur's three children and his grandchild, and then cut both of Thakur's hands. In a battle around Gabbar's outpost in the hills, Jai is killed, but Veera manages to capture Gabbar. Thakur wants to kill Gabbar with his feet, but stops and hands him over to the police, instead. Veera leaves the village in a train, but falls in love with Basanti, a carriage girl.

One of the highest grossing and most popular Indian films of the 20th century, "Sholay" is a 'Hindi-Western' that manages to encompass some universal themes about humanity (friendship, honor, loyalty, problem of evil) and translate them into its own mentality. A blend of the "Seven Samurai" (except that there are only two protectors of the village here, and they are both young lads wearing modern 70s disco clothes and jeans) and "48 Hrs.", "Sholay" somehow manages to pull this bizarre syncretism through, but owes a lot of its influence to S. Leone's style since director Ramesh Sippy crafted a few surprisingly effective hypnotic-lingering-absorbing shots that give it weight, many of which are reminiscent of "Once Upon a Time in the West", whereas the score by R. D. Burman is great: while at first it may seem too simplistic, it grows on you with time. The main villain, Gabbar (excellent Amjad Khan) is a remarkably strong character, and even though he appears very late, over an hour into the film, almost every sequence he is in is great: he has a frightening presence, an embodiment of a survivalist, extreme authoritarianism and violent selfishness. One memorable sequence, which plays out in his open base on the hill, has him line up three of his henchmen as a punishment for failing an asignment, in front of his entire gang, and taking a pistol. He says: "Six bullets are not worthy for these three men!" and then shoots three shots in the sky. With three bullets left, he then plays roulette and decides to randomly aim and pull the trigger at the three henchmen from behind—yet all three triggers were empty. Gabbar then turns around and jokes that these three are "very lucky" and then everyone starts to laugh in relief—but then violently turns back and pulls the trigger three more times, this times discharging bullets and killing the three, anyway.

Even though it is a classic western and a 'good vs. evil' story, "Sholay" is puzzling to audiences of the West for also straying away from this genre and randomly traversing to different levels, including slapstick comedy, dance and a love story. One of the most bizarre comedy episodes is the segment where Veera and Jai are in a prison run by a warden who has a moustache and mannerisms of Hitler (!), but whose authority is often disrupted by clumsiness (a pigeon flying right in front of his face); Veera driving a bicycle by sitting on it backwards in order to impress girl Basanti whereas there are four pseudo-musical sequences present, one of which involves Gabbar forcing Basanti to dance for him on the canyon. While some have criticized it for being a "patchwork", "Sholay" is a film that shows how, even in the worst hardship and loss, life is never black-and-white, and always has some small moments of color and happiness hidden somewhere which should be included for a broader picture. The highlight is arguably the long sequence in which Takhur's all three grown up children are shot and killed near their house, while the suspense is heightened as the little grandchild spots Gabbar on a horse with a gun, slowly descending towards him from the hill, juxtaposed with a swing that is slowing down on swinging, and stops in tune to Gabbar final shot. The shot composition in that sequence is exquisite. "Sholay" is flawed: with a running time of three hours, it is overlong; some of its hectic camera zooms and camera drives are too shaky; some of its elements lean towards the exploitation genre, yet Sippy limns every character with a purpose, until the satisfying conclusion, creating a movie world that is its own and unique, regardless of all limitations. If all these ingredients worked in the 'Spaghetti-Westerns', there is no reason for them not to work even in India.

Grade:+++

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Code Geass (Season 1)

Code Geass; animated fantasy series, Japan, 2006; D: Goro Taniguchi, S: Jun Fukuyama, Takahiro Sakurai, Yukana Nogami, Junko Minagawa

In an alternate Universe, Japan is invaded and annexed by the Empire Britannia, and subsequently given a derogatory new name, "Area 11". Now second class citizens in their own homeland, the Japanese strive for resistance and independence. Lelouch, an exiled teenager of Britannian blood whose mother was killed and sister Nunally left in a wheelchair, swears to his friend Suzako that he will get rid of Britannia. One day, he gets caught up in an armed clash involving a military vehicle, and opens its tank only to find a mysterious green-haired girl inside, C.C. The girl gives him a magical power, known as the "Geass": he can order any person to do whatever he says, but it can be used only once per person, and he has to look that person directly with his right, red eye. Lelouch is surprised by this new power, puts a helmet on and builds up a new identity as Zero, who commands The Black Knights, a group of rebels who want an independent Japan. They use giant robots to fight Britannians. However, things get complicated after Suzako joins the Britannians ranks, thereby getting in direct conflict with Lelouch.

Following the end of broadcast of "Death Note", a giant void was left on Japanese television, which just cried for a successor to try to fill the shoes of that instant anime classic about a special power that changes the world. "Code Geass" was seen as the closest attempt at that time, following a similar concept in which a complex protagonist-antagonist gains a special ability in order to challenge the establishment and achieve his goal, in this case "Geass", the ability to command anyone whatever he tells him or her to do, though it can be used only once. This ingenious premise offered an interesting commentary on some historical figures who come out of nowhere yet inexplicably rise through the ranks, becoming leaders in some groups, but it did not fully exploit all the rich potentials of such a juicy set-up—at least not in the 1st season—though it still has its moments. The 1st episode establishes that awe, when Lelouch is cornered by a dozen Britannian soldiers who aim their guns at him, yet decides to test his "Geass" and thus just orders them to shoot themselves, instead—and is surprised when they actually comply and commit mass suicide.

However, unlike the highly intelligent approach of "Death Note" that never tries to appeal to the wide audience, "Code Geass" does not reach that high level of authority, neither in style nor in execution, among others due to some banal, cheap elements (the rebels pilot giant robots, though this "mecha" genre is utterly unnecessary for this kind of story and disrupts the storyline through its heavy-handed action sequences; an occasional "fan service" moment in the Academy; some silly scenes, such as the episode in which Lelouch chases after a cat that stole his helmet in the Academy; a giant robot rotating a giant pizza at the school festival in episode 21...), as well as too many characters, of which not all are that memorable. The highlights are always connected when the anime is focused on this special concept. For instance, in one episode near the beginning, the rebels are caught in a battle with the Britannian army, and Lelouch/Zero simply goes to the enemy command center, "Geass"-tells a guard to simply let him in (!) and then goes directly to the commander, whom he "Geass"-orders to tell the army to surrender (!), and then simply shoots him. Another great moment is when Lelouch/Zero is seen interacting with Britannian commander Darlton, in episode 22, and this comes full circle during the battle in episode 24, when commander Cornelia, in her robot, is just about to kill Zero in his robot, but is suddenly pierced by a giant spike—thrown by her own subordinate Dartlon, who is confused why he is doing this. The fact that Zero "Geassed" Dartlon off-screen in episode 22, to attack his own superior if Zero is about to lose, is simply an exquisite checkmate and gives this plot twist intensity and spark. More of such moments would have been welcomed, though, since too much time is spent on Lelouch's internal conflicts, which are never on the same intensity as when he is using his "Geass". Simply put, "Geass" is more important than Lelouch, and not the other way around, which is rather indicative.

Grade:++

Monday, April 2, 2018

Mayabazar

Mayabazar; fantasy, India, 1957; D: Kadiri Venkata Reddy, S: S. V. Ranga Rao, Savitri, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, N. T. Rama Rao, Gummadi Venkateswara Rao, Chilakalapudi Seeta Rama Anjaneyulu

Ancient India. Princess Sasirekha is in love with Abhimanyu, but their relationship is under trouble: uncle Shakuni from the Kaurava clan cheats in a game of dice, thereby tricking the Pandavas and stealing their fortune. This gives Shakuni the power to blackmail Balarama into giving his daughter Sasirekha to the Kauravas, specifically to Duryodhana's son Lakshmana Kumara. However, Krishna decides to subtly intervene to save the couple: he redirects a carriage driving Abhimanyu into a forest where he meets Ghatotkacha. Using his magical powers, Ghatotkacha takes Sasirekha out of Kauravas palace, and instead takes her exact form to cause mischief before the wedding. Pretending to be Sasirekha, Ghatotkacha eats all their food and scares off Kumara. By standing on a magical box, Shakuni tells the truth about his trechery, and thus Ghatotkacha banishes him and the Kauravas by tying him up in a carpet, while the real Sasirekha and Abhimanyu marry.

One of the most popular and beloved Indian films of the 20th century, filmed in both a Telugu and Tamil version, "Mayabazar" feels a little dated and stiff by today's standards, thereby losing a part of its initial charm. With a running time of three hours, the movie is definitely overstretched, and it takes too long until it finally sets up its first act, yet the basic story is actually simple—a couple is in love, but feindish people want to trick the girl's family into giving her to them—whereas once the hilarious genie-like Ghatotkacha shows up (brilliant S. V. Ranga Rao), some 60 minutes into the film, and decides to advance into a patron of the couple and help them out, the whole story rises up a level higher thanks to humor that was inserted into it. The special and visual effects seem modest and scarce compared to modern movies, yet the viewers should still commend the authors for the effort of trying them out, since part of them turned out solid (the "path of fire" that goes through the forest to encompass the carriage; Abhimanyu shoots an arrow and it hits and stops a club in the mid air that Ghatotkatcha threw at him from a hill...) whereas at least one idea achieved cult status in India: a magical box whose lid can be opened to display a screen from the inside, and show images of a given person, which is today jokingly referred to as the "first example of a laptop". The highlight is the last quarter of the film, in which Ghatotkacha changes his shape into Princess Sasirekha (!) in order to cause mischief as her double and stop the forced-arranged wedding: some wonderful comical moments include (the fake) Sasirekha suddenly revealing hairy feet, singing in a deep, crispy male voice, causing all the maids around to look at "her", until "she" coughs and corrects it back to "her" feminine voice; Kumara taking the veil down to see "Sasirekha's" face, but "she" just makes a grimace with her eyes and sticks out her tongue; "Sasirekha" turning her face into a tiger to scare Kumara off or squeezing his hand in a handshake. The actress playing her, Savitri, is amazing, especially in this "mischievous" segment. "Mayabazar" sometimes feels rushed, naive and it takes very long until it gets to the good parts, yet its sincere messages about true love and assistance still ring true today.

Grade:++

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Psycho-Pass: The Movie

Psycho-Pass: The Movie; animated science-fiction thriller, Japan, 2015; D: Katsuyuki Motohiro, Naoyoshi Shiotani, S: Kana Hanazawa, Tomokazu Seki, Hiroshi Kamiya

Tokyo, 22nd century. It's been four years since the death of criminal Shogo Makishima. The Sibyl system is still operating in Japan. Its police officer, Akane, is sent on a mission outside the country, to South East Asia Union (SEAUn), to find Kogami, her colleague who disappeared. She arrives to SEAUn's capital, atol Shambala Float, which aims to become the first importer of Sibyl system outside Japan in order to ends its bloody civil war and bring stability. The war is waged between the dictator Han and his commander Wong on one side and the rebels who want democracy. Akane encounters Kogami who joined the rebels and finds out SEAUn's army all have critical, criminal Psycho-Pass levels, but are concealed because they are useful to the system. In the ensuing fight, Wong is killed. Akane finds out that Han has been killed and replaced with a robot-clone by Sibyl in order to export its system throughout the world. Kogami escapes while Akane returns to Tokyo.

The movie spin-off of the critically recognized anime series "Psycho-Pass" is a proportionally well made achievement that changed the setting from Tokyo to a (fictional) foreign country, yet still stayed faithful to its theme of "techno-Totalitarianism", as well as all the intelligent, ambitious and subtle ingredients that go with it, already established in the series. A small minus is that it builds up a fast pace without much explanation, and thus viewers unfamiliar with the show will be utterly lost as to what it happening and who is after whom. Another perplexing thing is that the story is rather grey and schematic at times, with only some occasional "lively" moments that 'twitch' it from this bleak-monochromatic atmosphere: one of the best is the sweet "stolen" scene in the opening act in which Akane punches air with her fists while talking with Ginoza about catching Kogami ("Punch him for me." - "No need for that. I'll bring him here, so you can punch him... yourself!"). As with the series, the storyline presents a futuristic world in which technology paved a whole new set of possibilities for convenience (one scene shows a girl looking at herself in the mirror, while her futuristic dress changes colors until she finds the one she likes), but also the possibilities for dictatorship through dangerous infiltration of technology into the private lives of people. It may also be a sly allegory on the Syrian Civil War (in the fictional state of SEAUn, engulfed in a civil war, dictator Han is using the "Poisoning-the-well" and demonization arguments by labeling every rebel automatically as a "terrorist", which is mirrored when mercenary Desmond cynically says that "violence has been privatized" and that the "state now has a monopoly on violence") and on corruption and dishonesty in general (Kogami jokes by posing the question what would happen in the Psycho-Pass criminal levels would be used to scan dictator Han, as well). A somewhat stilted and too serious, though undeniably clever and ambitious film adaptation of the series.

Grade:++

Creed

Creed; sports drama, USA, 2015; D: Ryan Coogler, S: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad

Los Angeles. Adonis Johnson is the illegitimate child of the deceased boxing champion, Apollo Creed. Adonis travels to Philadelphia and persuades Rocky Balboa to train him to be a boxer. Adonis also falls in love with a singer, Bianca. During his first match, he scores a win, much to Rocky's satisfaction. However, Rocky is diagnosed with a form of cancer, but refuses to undergo chemotherapy. Adonis manages to change his mind and persuade him to undergo the therapy. During a boxing match, Adonis holds up for several rounds. The judges award his opponent, Conlan, the title, but Rocky is still proud of Adonis and wows to train him further.

It is ironic that in 1'990, when the Rocky franchise was nearing its end with "Rocky V", a new beginning was unexpectedly rising somewhere else in the mind of the then 4-year old Ryan Coogler, who would 25 years later renew the film series with an informal 7th part, "Creed", that unexpectedly received wide critical recognition and achieved a rare treat: Slyvester Stallone was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor, the first time in history that an actor was nominated for that award for playing the same character after a time pause of 39 years. Truth be told, "Creed" is a little bit overrated and not quite worthy of the hype: the training sequences are routine; several examples of "over-editing" in the opening act are superfluous; Adonis' love story with Bianca is pale whereas the boxing sequences have no passion, emotion or ingenuity, except in the exciting finale that ends on a surprisingly sober tone. Some fans have even complained that "Rocky Balboa" was the right ending of the franchise. Still, the story in "Creed" works thanks to the friendship and loyalty of these two characters, Rocky and Adonis, who have enough charm and comraderie to carry the film. It is not quite extraordinary, just variation of the previous films about one character mentoring the other to prepare for the match, yet some quotes of wisdom or pathos help to elevate the mood. One of them is when Adonis finally meets Rocky and asks him how he managed to beat Apollo, upon which Rocky replies: "Time beat him. Time, you know, takes everybody out. It's undefeated." The final match is also exciting, because Rocky is puzzled as to why the severely wounded Adonis insists on continuing the fight: "I have to prove it!" - "Prove what?" - "That I'm not a mistake!" It was somewhat predictable that the screenwriters would resolve to the "terminal-illness" sympathy card, when Rocky is diagnosed with cancer, yet his character is above that cliche due to some hiden wisdom in him: one of the most remarkable ones is his philosophy that Creed is not competing against the others, but only against himself, which transforms him in a state beyond victory or loss as he is just proving how far he can go, sumed up in one great line near the finale: "Hey, hey, it's *you* against *you*. He's just in your way. Get him out of the way!"

Grade:++

Saturday, March 24, 2018

True Lies

True Lies; action comedy, USA, 1994; D: James Cameron, S: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Art Malik, Tia Carrere, Bill Paxton, Eliza Dushku, Charlton Heston


Washington. Harry is a seemingly ordinary, boring computer salesman, living with his wife Helen and daughter Dana (14). However, unbeknownst to them, he is actually a spy working for the US government, teaming up with Albert to defend his country. His private life takes a major blow when he finds out that Helen is having an affair—with Simon, a car salesman who pretends he is a spy to seduce her. Realising Helen yearns for some excitement, Harry gives her a fake spy assignment. This is interrupted when they are both abducted by Abu Aziz's men, the "Crimson Jihad", a group of Islamic fundamentalists who want to detonate nuclear bombs across the US unless the American army withdraws from the Persian Gulf. Together with his team, Harry manages to escape and stop the "Crimson Jihad", while his wife Helen becomes his new spy partner.

Legend has it that when the producers of the new James Bond film attended the early screening of "True Lies", they said to each other: "It's going to be hard to top this one!" James Cameron's only comedy, a remake of Zidi's '91 French film "La Totale!", the first film with a budget of over a 100 million $, "True Lies" is a virtuoso action spectacle from start to finish, whose level just keeps rising the longer its running time—seldom will the viewers get a chance to see such a quality loud big budget action film that puts almost all James Bond films to shame, on all fronts. As expected, Cameron is a master in conjuring up a 'tour-de-force' demonstration of action sequences, yet the film gains an additional plus and spark by also showing the protagonist's private life, which enriches the story: there is a huge irony that he was hiding that he is a spy from his wife, only to find out that she has an affair with a man pretending to be a spy.

Humorous moments arrive swiftly and in the most unexpected places, and are a delight to watch: in the opening act, when Harry says goodbye to his wife in their home, he hurriedly kisses her on the cheek and runs away, while she just remains there standing, and—in a delayed reaction—makes a kissing expression with her lips all alone. Another sequence has Harry jealously observing Simon from his car, and in anger, Harry's glass in binoculars shatters. As Helen drops her gun, it falls down stairs and randomly shoots, until it kills all the bad guys in a moment of serendipity. The burlesque goes so far that it even features one almost "Hot Shots"-like gag in which the vehicle of the Islamic fundamentalists stops at the edge of a destroyed bridge, but then, out of nowhere, a fat pelican lands on it, tipping the vehicle to fall into the sea. After his underrated film "Last Action Hero" failed to attract the audience in the cinemas, Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to top shape with a more balanced mix of comedy and action, delivering a charming performance, in what is probably his last truly great film, whereas Jamie Lee Curtis is excellent in the role of Helen, with her erotic dance in the middle of the film being an extra highlight. Even though the ending is slightly rushed, this cannot corrode the already established high impression: "True Lies" gives one giant action spectacle as a therapy for the couple's marital crisis.

Grade:+++

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Class of 1999

Class of 1999; science-fiction action, USA, 1990; D: Mark L. Lester, S: Bradley Gregg, Traci Lind, John P. Ryan, Pam Grier, Patrick Kilpatrick, Malcolm McDowell, Darren E. Burrows

In the future, high school violence has gone out of control in some areas in America. One teenager, Cody, is released from jail and returns to his Kennedy high school, but is shocked to find three new teachers—Mr. Hardin in history class, Mrs. Connors in chemistry class and Mr. Bryles in physical class—who actually beat up students in order to bring order and discipline during class. Two students even die from beatings. Together with Christie, the Principal's daughter, Cody discovers that these three teachers are actually androids, humanoid robots used by the military to launch a new discipline program nation-wide. Upon getting caught browsing their apartment, Hardin, Connors and Bryles decide to persecute Cody. First they kill his brother, Angel, and then kidnap Christie. Together with a gang of teenagers, Cody manages to save Christie and destroy robots in the school at night.

This bizarre syncretism of "The Terminator" and high school juvenile delinquents films achieved cult status, yet did not hold up well with the flow of time after 1999, since it is obviously a simplistic, sometimes even trashy action flick that cannot aim to be something more than a 'guilty pleasure'. "Class of 1999" observes a clash between extreme anarchism and extreme authoritarianism, yet pretty much avoids trying to give an in-depth analysis, instead settling for the shallow exploitation film where the actions and decisions of the characters are only there for someone to fight. The three android teachers look too human (especially Mr. Hardin who even smokes a pipe!), and thus never fool anyone that they are robots, except in the finale when they reveal their robotic parts (including Mr. Bryles taking off his hand to reveal a cannon underneath it) and which almost directly copies the finale in "The Terminator" (featuring the only visual effects sequence in the entire film, the stop-motion of Mr. Bryles with half of his flesh gone, revealing his robotic interior, as he walks after Christie and thus Cody has to attack him with a forklift truck). Critics also attacked the film for inciting a violent clash between students and teachers, which was not seen positively from the educational sector. Still, at least the movie is not sterile, since it abounds with several bizarre moments, some of which are so strange that they deserve to be seen (for instance, when two students interrupt the history class by fighting, Mr. Hardin takes one of them, sits on the desk and publicly spanks him in front of the entire class). Among the three android teachers is Pam Grier, who at least somewhat manages to salvage the confusing impression thanks to a few sequences where she uses her "karate moves" to beat up students into obedience.

Grade:+

Monday, March 19, 2018

Armour of God II: Operation Condor

Fei ying gai wak; action comedy, Hong Kong / China, 1991; D: Jackie Chan, S: Jackie Chan, Carol Cheng, Eva Cobo, Shoko Ikeda

Madrid. Adventurer Jackie is given an assignment by a certain Baron to find 240 tn of gold which were stolen during World War II and buried somewhere in the Sahara by the German commander Hans. Teamed up by Elsa, the granddaughter of Hans, and Ada, the trio travels in jeeps south, to the desert. They are attacked by two Arab men as well as mercenaries, while they meet another woman who joins them, Momoko. They finally discover a tunnel which leads them to the underground base, but are taken hostage by the mercenaries led by a man in a wheelchair, Adolf, the last remaining soldier who survived Hans' poisoning of his team. They find the gold, but the self-destruction mechanism of the base activates. Jackie and the three women manage to escape through a wind turbine before the explosion, but are now lost in the desert.

Even though it was not that well received by the critics, "Armour of God 2" still works as a fresh and elegant action comedy even today, featuring once again all the super-fast and meticulously choreographed battle and martial arts fights by Jackie Chan, who here also took over the control on the director's front. Intended as a light homage to the "Indiana Jones" film series, as well as an often tradition of Hong Kong films filmed in exotic locations around the world (in this example, the Sahara), "Armour of God 2" still finds its own style. It works the best in the first half, which features both inspired action (the highlight is arguably the long chase sequence involving Jackie on the motorcycle, which includes him saving a baby cradle from the street, just before a truck crashes into two cars on that spot) and outrageous slapstick comedy moments (the long "hostage" sequence in which Jackie fights mercenaries in the hotel room, all the while using Ada's towel to distract the enemies, until, in the end, a naked Ada "hides" by entering inside Jackie's pants and jacket from his back, so the two of them walk together by sharing the same clothes). Unfortunately, the second half is much weaker and loses a lot of its initial level due to forced or spasmodic humor, falling all until the action finale that returns it back into shape. The silly story is, once again, basically just an excuse to have Jackie Chan go on an adventure to fight the bad guys, the "incomplete" ending feels rushed and unfinished whereas the supporting character of Momoko plays no role in the story, yet the enormous set pieces and aesthetic images of the sand dunes still manage to compensate for the omissions: one of the best jokes is the giant wind turbine in the finale, in which Jackie shouts "Superman!" as he jumps and let's the wind push him to fly off into a wall in the underground base, showing that he still has that charm and wit, even when doing sequels.

Grade:++

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Chungking Express

Chung Hing sam lam; romance / drama, Hong Kong / China, 1994; D: Wong Kar-wai, S: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Brigitte Lin, Faye Wong, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Valerie Chow

Two stories from Hong Kong: while going after a criminal, police officer He Qiwu, number #223, encountered an unknown woman with a blond wig for the first time. She organized a drug smuggling business that failed, which left her very upset. Qiwu is sad because his girlfriend May left him on his birthday. Qiwu meets the blond wig woman and they fall in love... Faye, a saleslady in a small snack bar, falls in love with police officer #663, but is too scared to do something directly due to her short hair. When a woman, a flight attendant, breaks up with the said police officer, she leaves him a farewell letter and the keys to his apartment at the snack bar desk—which thus land in the hands of Faye. She uses the keys to secretly enter his apartment and clean it. One day, he catches her in his apartment, but she runs away. A year later, after Faye returns from California, she is now a flight attendant, and the infatuated police officer meets her again.

A lot of critical recognition was aimed at director Wong Kar-wai, and not without reason, since his unusual two-story romantic drama "Chunking Express" is an impressive, gentle, emotional and melancholic little film. The film consists out of two stories—the 1st one that lasts for 40 minutes, and the 2nd one for 60 minutes—which are unconnected, featuring two different protagonists, and this peculiar direction may puzzle some viewers: different and 'discreetly eccentric', it is still a successful drama the way it is, where the cinematography has a lot of aesthetics, but the characters are the main highlight, and that is its principal virtue. While the 1st story has its merits, the 2nd story is the "real deal", featuring a romantic "proxy poke" concept so sweet that not even "Amelie" would be ashamed off, the one in which a girl, Faye, accidentally obtains the apartment keys to the guy she is in love with, and thus secretly enters his apartment while he is away, trying to leave clues to him. The characters are wonderfully shrill: police officer #223, for instance, was born on 1 May, so he buys cans with an expiration date of 1 May, whereas police officer #663 tells a vet mop, which leaks water, not to cry. Superb song "California Dreamin'" is featured six times (!) throughout the film, whereas the final song, "Dreams", is sung by actress Faye Wong, assembling an unusual cavalcade of emotions, and circling out its unique melancholic mood.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Days of Being Wild

Ah fei zing zyun; drama / romance, Hong Kong / China, 1990; D: Wong Kar-wai, S: Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Andy Lau, Rebecca Pan, Jacky Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-wai

Hong Kong. A lad, Yuddy, seduces Li-zhen, a saleswoman working at the sports arena desk, and they start a relationship. However, Yuddy gets bored and disappears from her life without any explanation. Walking alone at night, Li-zhen is comforted by a police patrol man, Tide, but refuses to end up with him. Yuddy manages that another woman falls for him, dancer Mimi, but then dumps her as well. An angry Mimi confronts Li-zhen, but the latter tells her that Yuddy just dumps all the women like that. Yuddy confronts his adoptive mother and leaves for Philippines in order to find his biological mother. He is robbed by a girl but meets and befriends Tide, who became a sailor. Yuddy ends up in a fight in a hotel. While traveling in a train with Tide, one of the criminals tracks down Yuddy and shoots him in the wagon.

"Days of Being Wild" pretty much sums up all the frustrating aspects about director Wong Kar-wai: overwhelming aesthetics, underwhelming writing. While the cinematography is exquisite, filled with several wonderful, lush, beautiful shots and images, his storyline is strangely thin, with several 'empty walks', especially in the banal writing of dialogues, since some of the lines almost sound as if they came from a soap opera ("I told you not to love me! You got his car, and now you want even me!"). The final 20 minutes, where the main protagonist, Yuddy, suddenly decides to go to Philippines to search for his biological mother, are misguided and lead nowhere. Still, even in this 'raw' approach, Kar-wai has moments of magic, featuring nostalgia and a humanistic sympathy for his imperfect characters, especially in the puzzling protagonist who is a restless and aimless individual, a man who finds love (with two women), but leaves them because he hasn't found happiness with them, so he goes to search for love for his biological mother in the (illusory) search for some comfort, some peace of mind.

The most was achieved out of excellent actors: as great as Maggie Cheung is, she is overshadowed by the high calibre, genuine and irresistible performance by the fantastic Carina Lau as dancer Mimi, whose character is a joy to watch. One of the most charming sequences is the one where Yuddy returns to his apartment, angry that Mimi has not cleaned the floor. Mimi meets him sitting on a chair in a fancy, short dress, by saying: "Am I pretty?" - "Did you wipe the floor?" - "I did! It's just dry because of the heat. Don't believe me? Do you want me to swear?" - "Swear by cursing yourself!" - "I won't do that! OK, I'll clean it when I go out, alright?!" Another interesting leitmotiv is the one of time (in the opening, Yuddy tells Li-zhen that he will always remember that one minute before 3 PM, on 16 April 1 9 6 0, because he spent it with her) and the search for some permanent value in life. As cryptic and peculiar this movie is, and its strange directions, it is difficult not to be just a little bit enchanted with it in the opening encounter in which Yuddy tells Li-zhen that she will dream of him tonight, and the next morning, he shows up to spot her all tired, leading to a magical dialogue ("I haven't dreamt of you last night." - "That's because you haven't slept at all. But you see me now, anyway").

Grade:++